My grandpa made peanut brittle every year to give as gifts for the holidays, and my grandma made fruitcake. My mom made fudge - chocolate walnut was my favorite. My mom also, I’m pretty sure, invented chocolate-covered popcorn in the seventies. I could be wrong, but I like to believe it's true, anyway.
I remember the rows and rows of cookie sheets lined up around my grandparents’ kitchen, the way the house smelled like peanuts and sugar for days. He used a candy thermometer to make sure the sticky caramel reached the right temperature. He used Spanish peanuts with the skins on. I moved out of the way when he poured the brittle into the pans. I touched them before they were ready, in one tiny spot in the corner where I thought no one would notice, just enough so I could collect a little taste on my fingertips.
We teased my grandmother about the fruitcake: How could she possibly be making fruitcake when everyone knew there was really one only fruitcake in the entire planet that was being regifted endlessly? The truth is, I really liked her fruitcake. After the holidays, I would steal into the freezer at night and slice a piece to enjoy while I read Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys, or King Arthur and his Knightd.
There also seemed to be mountains of fudge around the house during the holidays, so my mom must have been pretty busy with that, although I have clearer memories of her canning, and have lost this memory.
The chocolate popcorn, though? That wasn’t about Christmas. That was goodness all year round. Before the microwave, we popped our popcorn on the stove, or in an air popper. Melted chocolate chips in a pan on the stove, too. Put the two things together, stir them up, let it set for as long as you can (like, more than ten minutes so the chocolate hardens, which we could never do.) et voila…one of the yummiest snacks from my childhood.
Now I like to try something new each year. I like to bake for my friends, and I work hard to keep it mellow, not go crazy. I’ll make two types of cookies, my daughter will, too, and that’s good. One cake for our Cakemas celebration at work on the 17th, and a dozen pints of honey Clementine preserves for gifts.
What are you baking this season?